Learning to Read without School

Scroll down to read all three articles.

How Caroline Learned to Read * November 10, 2011

Children Teach Themselves to Read * March 23, 2010

How Rhiannon Learned to Read * Spring 2007

How Caroline Learned To Read

November 10, 2011

I think I could have a case study for two very different learning styles in my family. My first daughter learned to read young and easily. I wrote about it in How Rhiannon Learned To Read, posted below. My second daughter, Caroline, has taken a much more leisurely approach to reading, and now, turning 8 this month, I’d still say she’s a fledgling reader who is just on the verge of mastering it.  I’ve written a bit about reading in blog posts, which you can find by searching for “reading.”  But today something is going on that makes me want to write this page.

One of my kids’ favorite things to do is play Roblox. This morning Caroline told me that Roblox has these games that include stories to read and she suggested it would be good practice for her. (So of course I said, “Okay!”)  She is conscious of the fact that she is learning to read at a slower pace than some people, like her sister, but I’ve tried to be matter-of-fact about it and not push her. For one thing, I’ve read many stories of other kids who mastered reading as “late” but who quickly caught up and soon you couldn’t tell they had been late readers.  They don’t miss out on anything because there are other ways to learn besides reading.  Often homeschooled children who take longer to read love to read because they were not pushed, whereas children who are pushed to read end up disliking it.  We focus on the joy of reading and don’t squash that by insisting on phonics lessons or daily practice reading silly stilted simplified texts. (However, we do own and the kids have chosen to read many of those silly simplified texts!)

I did all the same things I did for Rhiannon, as I listed at the page I mentioned above: talking without a lot of babytalk, word games, (almost) daily reading aloud, and so on. Early on, however, I could see that Caroline processes reading differently. She doesn’t see word parts but looks at the whole word.  That’s why her process is slower.  She has to see a word many many times to memorize it.

So I have just tried to read with her as often as possible.  We sit side by side and she reads and I fill in words when she asks. Sometimes we take turns reading. Knowing that writing is a route to reading for some kids, we’ve also played with that. I have copied sentences out of books onto sentence strips and cut them apart for her to mix up and put back together like a puzzle.  A couple of months ago she came up with the idea of playing Hangman using words from a book we had been reading. She asked to do that several times.

That’s the key with her.  (Probably with everyone and everything, I think.) She works much harder on tasks she sets herself. That’s why I was happily willing to listen to her spell aloud a dozen or two words this morning while she painstakingly read her way through that Roblox story. She was working hard but she wanted to do it, and she probably cemented several new words into her reading vocabulary.

That doesn’t mean I don’t talk about phonics. I can’t help it, because it seems to me, as an expert reader, that knowing “when two vowels go walking the first one (often) does the talking” would help. So I do mention the word patterns of our language and talk about the rules.  But I just mention them and I don’t become exasperated when I find myself repeating them.  I’m not sure whether I internalized those rules when I was learning to read, but I did learn to read quickly like my older daughter, who did seem to understand those phonics rules. For Caroline though, I get the feeling the rules just overly complicate reading.

I give her choices all the time too.  For a while she would sometimes choose to do lessons from The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading.  Sometimes she chooses to practice reading with computer games.  Over the years she has used Reader RabbitStarfall, and Reading Eggs among others. She listens to a lot of books read aloud by me, her dad, and her sister, and storytelling by Jim Weiss and some miscellaneous websites.

A few years ago, her efforts to read were few and far between and progress was harder for me to see.  But in the past year her reading ability has grown more quickly.  It’s still more slowly than I’d choose if it were my choice, but I remind myself it’s not, and just keep being available to her when she does want to read. There’s never any question that kids want to read.  With so much great stuff in the world to read and learn, who wouldn’t want to? I wish I could have recorded in video the concentration and effort she was putting into reading this story, because I’m a photographer who also loves making videos, but that might have interfered with her work too much.  So I decided to write about it.

Stay tuned!  In another year or three, perhaps I’ll write “How Ian Learned to Read.”  🙂  He seems to be in between his sisters.  He loves books, at 4 years old he knows several letters, and he’s interested in talking about books and reading.

Children Teach Themselves to Read

March 23, 2010

I came across a terrific article about kids learning to read without schooling.

Children Teach Themselves to Read by Peter Gray

It is based on stories sent in by unschooling families who responded to his request for them.  The children learned to read as late as 11 with no ill effect.  He bases his “seven principles of learning to read without schooling” on a small sample size, but when I read the article there were 112 comments and counting. I haven’t finished reading the comments, but many of them are undoubtedly additional anecdotes supporting the idea that learning to read can and ought to be like learning to talk.  This isn’t the first time I’ve come across such stories either.  Many times I’ve read about kids learning to read without being taught, and those that learn late according to school standards end up being avid readers and just as proficient as their peers within a short period of time.

Below, you can read what I wrote a few years ago about Rhiannon (now 8 years old) learning to read.  I don’t know what age I would say she was fluent, but she was definitely an early reader.  She has long been reading independently and she devours books.  That doesn’t mean I no longer read to her — on the contrary she is the child of mine who enjoys that the most — and right now we’re almost done with Anne of Avonlea.  What an awesome series of books for developing our vocabularies (mine as well as hers)!

Bedtime reading is a daily habit in our house.

Caroline (6) is going about learning to read much more leisurely than her sister, although I think she is pretty close to grade level if not right on.  I think she might be more right brained than her left brained sister, and reading is not one of her passions.  Yet I regularly observe progress.  A long time ago she surprised me by writing the entire alphabet.  Sometime later we played with letters and she read /at/ words.   More recently she has read other words to me.  I’m often surprised when she reveals the ability to do something in the area of language arts because she’s taking it so slowly and matter of factly.  She doesn’t even want me to read aloud to her very much, often choosing a bedtime video instead of a bedtime story read by me.

Ian (3) may be in between my two girls with regard to interest and aptitude in reading.  He started sitting and looking at books before he was 1, if I remember correctly, albeit for brief periods of time.  Now he sits for longer periods of time studying books, so the interest is definitely there.  He’s not reading three letter words yet like Rhiannon was at 3 though.  Not that I think he should!  He does recognize some letters though.  He loves my copy of  The Happiness Project, frequently swiping it from my desk.  One morning he surprised me by pointing to a few of the letters and naming them!

As someone who loves words, I’m enjoying watching my children learn to read naturally and joyfully, with no schooling of any kind (including homeschool lessons) to damper their enthusiasm.  We just enjoy books and stories and games and life.

How Rhiannon Learned to Read

written spring ’07 when she was turning 5

Only two or three times have I ever attempted to have a structured reading lesson with Rhiannon (using The Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, by the way, which I think is very good, just unnecessary). Despite no structured lessons, Rhiannon is reading at least on a first grade level. Most likely even higher, but since I don’t test her, it’s hard to say.

It’s also hard to say exactly how she learned to read. It’s rather invisible. However, I can list activities she and I have done many times which I think supported her learning to read:

I’ve always talked with her a lot, since she was a baby, in a real voice, about real things, in a voice not watered down with much babytalk.

We played with letters–scrabble tiles, blocks, magnets–just having fun.

I read aloud to her a lot. When she was three she was enjoying listening to Lord of the Rings. Right now (spring ’07) we are reading the Harry Potter series.

Rhiannon has enjoyed books since she was a baby.

We have lots of books everywhere in the house, and she has been very interested in them since she was a baby.

She has played many computer games such Reader Rabbit and starfall.com, and watched the Leap Frog videos many times.

She often asks me to point to the words when I read aloud.

When she is reading something and asks me what a word is I just tell her.

We’ve played word family games, making several words that all end in -at, for example.

just a few of the books in our home library